Jack Chevalier

Linda Hodges Gallery

As an artist and Vietnam veteran, Jack Chevalier has chosen not to use painting as a way of parading his tormented psyche, but has instead sought to build a precise and meaningful iconography through which to redeem and heal it. The intricate geometric abstractions he began working on ten years ago were a cross between the ascending chorus of decorative geometries in cathedral architecture and the colorful, earth-centered sand painting that Native Americans of the Southwest use in healing rituals. But all this careful rhyming and balance of color and shape seemed rather remote, as though the artist were responding to the symptoms, not the source, of his emotional pain. In his recent work Chevalier has dramatically reversed this ungrounded feeling, introducing photographic-style imagery and developing certain cunning formal innovations.

In Phoenix, 1989, he projects a slide of a cityscape onto paper, pencils it in, then lightly coats the surface with a drippy gouache. The image’s skyward angle of vision, the clouds, roof lines, trees, and particularly the telephone poles and slanting wires subliminally work on the viewer like nearly forgotten memories of a secure childhood. Centering the image is a black cross made of charred wood: it could be a cemetery image or a plus-sign, a bomb sight or archetype for psychological integration. Alongside it, a stoplight hangs from the pictured wires, its lowest circle painted green. The affirmative symbolic imagery seems not an escape from pain but a positive transformation of it.

What makes Chevalier’s recent work so formally convincing is well-illustrated by Autumn Rite, 1989. Its bare tree, sky, and clouds have a melancholy uninterpretability to them. Paint is squeezed into a beadlike border around another charred cross, like a decorative seam. Four pyramid-shaped dimples, which are made of wood and project forward into space, stand as sentinels above, below, and to the two sides. Most compelling is what undergirds the translucent rice paper. Particle board, some of it painted, has been jigsawed into a specific geometric configuration and glued to the paper; it shadows the manifest imagery like ribs under the skin. Contiguous V-shapes seem to converge at the center and also to fly apart in every direction. One becomes aware of a disparate array of surfaces; photographic paper, burnt wood, a textilelike seam, geometric extrusions. All of these surfaces read as flat. They superimpose and are continuous with one another; there seems to be no disjunction between them. Chevalier suggests that, although our experiences are complex and multifaceted, the meaning we derive from them can take on the simplicity of revelation.

Jae Carlsson